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China: Detention of Shanghai-based human rights defender Ms Mao Hengfeng
On 30 September 2012 Shanghai-based human rights defender Ms Mao Hengfeng was detained while petitioning in Beijing. She was apprehended by non-uniformed men and forcibly sent back to Shanghai, where she is being held on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.
Mao Hengfeng is a veteran rights defender and petitioner who has spent periods of time in re-education through labour, prison, psychiatric hospitals and under house arrest as a result of her activism.
According to her husband, Mr Wu Xuewei, at approximately 2pm on 30 September, Mao Hengfeng observed that she was under surveillance by two plainclothes men as she waited for a bus at a Beijing bus station. Shortly thereafter, Wu Xuewei told Chinese Human Rights Defenders that he had lost contact with his wife and repeated attempts to contact her by mobile phone were unsuccessful. Previous to this, Mao Hengfeng had been in regular contact with her family to assure them of her well-being, and four days earlier had noticed that she was being followed. On 2 October Wu Xuewei reportedly received the criminal detention notice concerning his wife which informed him that she is being detained on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order”.
Wu Xuewei believes the charges against Mao Hengfeng relate to activities carried out by her in January 2012 to commemorate the death of a petitioner who died in a black jail in 2008. It is further believed that she is only now being targeted in an effort to ensure that she will not be in Beijing at the time of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, which will convene on 8 November 2012. This event will see the changeover of power at the top of the Communist Party. In advance of this, human rights defenders are being arbitrarily subjected to increased restrictions including detention, house arrest and forced travel.
Mao Hengfeng is a long-term human rights defender who has a history of drawing attention to forced abortions and forced evictions. Following earlier stints in jail and psychiatric hospitals because of her activities, she was sentenced to 18 months re-education through labour in March 2010 for “disturbing public order”. This charge related to a protest she held outside a courthouse in support of fellow human rights defender and Nobel laureate Mr Liu Xiaobo when he was being sentenced to 11 years imprisonment on 25 December 2009. Mao Hengfeng has been repeatedly subjected to abuse while in detention.
Front Line Defenders believes that the detention of Mao Hengfeng is directly related to her work in defence of human rights. Given her previous history of abuse while in detention, Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned for her physical and psychological integrity.